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No more chances
You sit alone on a doorstep, shrouded in cloaks of darkness. No one can see your face. Not that they look. They are ashamed to look at you and give you nothing. You look like you grew very quickly in a short space of time. Your clothes are too short, and you are too thin to fill them. A woolly hat protects your ears from the cold. A cap lies in front of you, and you have been staring at it for the last minute. Not enough for a whole day. Not nearly enough.
Mothers pull their children away from your alcove. The children have no idea what you do there, sitting in the shadows all day. The ones who walk past you everyday stare at you. You used to go to school with some of the rough teenagers. They did better than you. Safe at home or at school, no fears in their minds. Just girls and homework and football, things you used to think about. Not anymore. ‘No worries!’ they used to say. Too many to count now.
People are scared to approach you. Your face is covered by the hood on your jumper. You look threatening. To everyone but me, you are dangerous. They wander what you did to get yourself where you are, and thank the stars their children are not like you. They are the same. No matter what they believe.
You keep glancing at a man on the other side of the street. He has been there a while; leaning against a shop window, smoke billowing from his oversized nostrils. You look away as he meets your eyes. Fear crosses you scared face; a smile splits across his. He will stand there until six o’clock. Then he will come to collect you from your doorstep and escort you ‘home’. You know you will never collect enough to meet his quota. You know you have failed today’s task. You know there will be consequences.
A young, pretty woman wearing green high heels and bright red lipstick comes over and keels down beside you. Social worker. You see a lot of them. You have to lie to them. It makes you feel bad. But the man told you never to speak a truthful word to a Social Worker. You have four lives you can choose from. You never use the same life twice in a row. They can’t catch you. You will never be found. She tries hard to talk to you, but you stay silent, not looking into her eyes, not returning her smile. Eventually she gets up and walks away, dropping a five-pound note in your cap. She whispers that it’s the least she can do. You nod, acknowledging her for the first time. But she had already turned away.
The man watching you is met by a taller, stronger looking man, possibly drunk. You can’t tell with him. He acts the same if he’s drunk or not. They talk for a minute, the first man points over at you, you drop your head as he sees you looking. The drunken man follows his finger and walks haphazardly towards you. The few shoppers still on the streets ignore you both. You are always there, every day the same. The drunken man is new. But not of interest. Just another strange, tall, drunken man walking on a street in the evening.
He reaches you. You flinch as he thrusts his face inches away from yours. He stinks of alcohol and you try not to breath him in. He whispers dark threats, spit flying into your eyes. You shudder as he talks. I wish I were closer. I wish I could hear him too. He picks up your cap, swishes the loose change around in the bottom and shakes his head at the man on the other side of the street. The man nods and draws a finger menacingly across his throat. You turn your face away from them both, not wanting them to see the fear on your face. He knows what you long to do. What you need, so desperately to do. But he knows you won’t disobey him. He knows that you need him. More than you need anyone else.
The drunken man waits until the other man closes his eyes to draw from his cigarette and pockets your only note. The one from the Social Worker. He grins at you, enjoying the fear in your eyes. He leans back down and pushes you roughly against the wall. You feel your head hit the stone. You feel the hot, thick liquid trickle down your neck. You see the lights behind your eyes. You feel no pain. Not anymore. You lean forward; unable to support yourself, and feel your chest hit a hand, pushing you back upright, almost gently. You open your eyes to see whose hand it is. It’s the drunken man’s. You can’t think properly. You don’t understand. He stands up and leaves. He whispers that the other man will come back in a few hours to get you. And that you’d better have the money by then.
Hopelessness courses through your veins. You have no chance of collecting the rest of the money in just a few hours. You’re dead. You have no chance. They are watching you, laughing, from the other side of the street. You turn away, pulling your hood back over your face. No chance at all.
Darkness descends dully on the street. Shops shut, turning off the golden, twinkling lights. You count six people walking past in the next half hour. Too few. And none stop to give you anything. A teenager stops at the ATM near you. You look up at him. Meet his eyes. You are sure you used to know him. Back in your old life. A spark of recognition ignites between his eyes and yours. But he turns his back on you. He drops a few pennies; change from the coffee he holds in his hand, into you cap. He takes the handful of crisp ten pound notes, stuffs them hastily in his wallet, uncomfortable in the spotlights of your eyes, watching his every move. He puts away his wallet and puts his coffee by your cap. Then he runs off. His mind changes to other things as he jogs away. He has a History assignment due the next day. He wont have time to watch T.V..
The man from the other side of the street comes over to you. The street is empty. You pick up the coffee, wanting just one sip of hot, tasty liquid before it is stolen from you. Your nose is in the cup, the steam clouding your vision. The smell engulfing your thoughts. The liquid touches your lip and you open your dry mouth.
The cup is knocked from your hand and you feel the slap as it hits your cheek. You taste blood. It’s warm, but tastes bad. You look down. The coffee has spilled out. No chance of a hot drink. The man stands in front of you, blocking you in the doorway. He counts the money. He bends over and grabs your chin, pulling you up to face him, forcing you to look in his eyes. They are cold. Hard and unforgiving. But like they are searching. Searching for something other than your retinas. Searching for help that will never come. You almost feel sorry for him. But you stop yourself. He whispers. You try to pull your head away, but he uses his other hand to grip your fringe. Black hairs come off in his hand. You missed your chance.
You sit, alone on the doorstep. Your face is hidden. A cap lies in front of you, and occasionally someone will drop in their spare change. You stare at the man across the street. He is not there. You can’t see him any more. You are alone. You stand up and reach for the cap. You pocket the money and walk away without a backwards glance. I stand up and rush over to you. You are taller than I thought. But younger. Barely sixteen. I thrust my hand deep into my pocket, pulling out a handful of crisp twenties. You deserve them more than me. You need them. You want them. You look me in the eye. You stand in front of me, angry and sad. I nod and close your hand around the notes. I turn and walk away.
You stand in the middle of the street, alone, hand extended, clutching over four hundred pounds in your fist. You turn too, hoping I won’t come back and take the money again. You run. You turn a corner, and you slip out of my sight. I lost my chance to tell you my name. You wouldn’t remember me. But I lost my chance too.